Category Archives: Coffee Roasters

I was at Ratios Coffee, Sharjah, UAE


I know, back in the UAE again – I can’t help it, if Emirates offer the most competitive routes to the countries I travel in Africa, at least currently, and let’s face it, A 48 hour stopover in Dubai is too tempting to pass off. Okay, so sifting through Instagram, my eyes were caught by the introduction of the UAEs first or at least one of the first Synesso espresso machine at a shop in Sharjah – the next emirate to Dubai. So, when I visited just last week and I was tole we had to attend a wedding feast in Sharjah, I quickly opened up Instagram to try and find out which cafe it was, so that I won’t miss the opportunity to check out another specialty cafe. By chance, I actually found them through another committed coffee geek centre, Speciality Batch, (Espresso Lab, Hundred Wellness Centre, Dubai) whom I’ve never visited, but who seem to have the exclusive rights to Synesso in the UAE.

After stuffing my self with all kinds of food, I encouraged my friend, another keen coffee guy, to search and try out Ratios coffee. After driving around for close to 30 minutes – committed – we found the shop, which is like a goldmine in terms of speciality coffee in this region.
Overlooking the Sharjah Creek by an area called the Corniche, connecting both Souq Al Arsah and Souq Saqr, Ratio prides itself on keeping things simple. It works with speciality micro-coffee roasters from the region, which in this case is Speciality Batch, located in Dubai.

Khalid Faisal Al Qassemi, Vice Chairman of Al Qasimi Group and Owner of Ratios, said: “We opened Ratios to offer our guests perfectly brewed coffee unlike what is served in branded shops amidst a vibrant atmosphere and supported with exceptional customer service (source: Khaleej Times)

and I can’t complain about that…. although it was busy, you could tel that when busy, there’s a really relaxed vibe here, the kind you find in your typical neighbourhood cafe in New York or London.

Upon entering, it’s quite obvious that coffee is the champ here – okay they’ve got some sandwiches, pastries and sweets on display but the coffee stuff outweighs the others; there’s an uber boiler, a chemex, bags of specialty batch coffee everywhere, other coffee tools and of course the Synesso in customised colours.


I decided to place an order for a piccolo – a mini-latte but stronger in terms of coffee – double shot coffee with a lot less milk, because the drink is made in a 120ml cup.


I couldn’t however resist the cheesecake topped chocolate brownie – forgive me, but there wasn’t any dessert at the wedding, so I was craving something sweet and wow! Nothing like a great dessert to accompany a great coffee.
I took pics and sent them to my daughter to taunt her – it worked – “daddy can you please bring me a slice” Erm! not sure how that will work on a 5 hour flight.


The barista, Ronald, is really into his latte art, very easy to talk to and give advice.


On the latter, before leaving for Dubai, Ronald asked us to check out Cremolata, located in the University City of Sharjah, apparently awarded the best gelato in the Middle East but more importantly for me, they serve coffee from another new and top micro-roaster, gold box – another place to check sometime soon insha’allah. On this occasion we had an espresso – medium acidity and smooth, with hints of caramel.


So, if you’re tired of Dubai and wants o explore another Emirate not too far away, I highly recommend Ratios Coffee. If you can’t ask make it before Ramadhan, i.e. before 6 June, then check them out after and cool off with some gelato at Cremolata too, who also have a branch in Dubai.For more, see ratioscoffee


Thanks @ Hackney Coffee Company for a Friendly Coffee

  

 Thanks to Jon Penn, co-founder of Hackney Coffee Company, located on 499 Hackney Road, London for reaching out to me through Instagram and sending me a bag of delicious Nicaragua Nuevo Segouia Catuai, natural dried arabica coffee.

About the coffee, the taste profile is advertised as rum, raisin and cascara tea. I can’t say for sure that I picked up those exact profiles, except for the cascara tea, when I tested it cold, leaving the coffee fro about 20 minutes. What I picked up was dried berries, like cherry, a fruity burst, medium acidity, well balanced and on calling dark chocolate.

   
  My colleague, an expert wine taster actually described it as a

Friendly coffee

By that, he meant, well balanced, pleasant to drink, raspberries, medium acidity and well balanced.

A pleasant cup.

On brewing method, I tried it out using an aeropress, but I must confess I loved it better using a Hario V60. This is where I was able to pick up a high tasting notes. In fact I liked this coffee so much, that I visited their website to try and order it, but form what I gather, they don’t have an online shop yet.

  
so, if ya down in East London, go grab a cuppa at Hackney Coffee Company, mate – sorry couldn’t help myself in putting a typical cockney accent.


The Sum of Us, Dubai: Revisited

  
I guess I kind of give the impression that I live in Dubai – well, my jealous daughter just told me “You stop-over there so often”, and my reply “don’t be a hater”. Anyway on yet another stop-over, just last weekend, I was naturally craving coffee, even though the curry fish I had the previous night didn’t provide relief but grief. It just so happened that on this occasion, the Sum of Us was the closest decent cafe to get to before rushing off to the airport.

On entering, I was pleasantly surprised. First up, when I visited in the summer, the cafe had only been opened about 4 weeks and hence was not on the radar yet, making it quite empty – read more here. So, on this occasion, the cafe was literally packed, both inside and outside (it was only about 24C). I only wanted a good cup of milk-based espresso a flat – a magic. 

  
After placing my order, I wandered around and went back to wait by their “take away” station. 

  
After downing my caffeine bliss, I was very intrigued by the expresso blend used – it was quite exceptional and so after discovering it was their house blend, aptly called “Tsunami”, I walked off to the roastery section to purchase my bag of beans.

  
Upon entering, there are gadgets (aeropress, Hario V60 and more) on the left-hand side of the wall, plus I was greeted very nicely by Kersti from Estonia. As we talked, she sensed I was not just another buff and mentioned that she was also holding a coffee tasting session later that day.

  
 I noticed two coffees from EspressoLab, Cape Town, chatted for a bit and ran out to meet my very patient cousin, who was driving around wondering why it was taking me 10 minutes just to drink a cup of coffee.

So, whats changed? More people, eclectic atmosphere, the smell of success and coffee tasting. By having your own roastery, you have access to multiple revenue streams – you gain control of your raw material and product line, coffee, you can sell coffee to other cafes and of course, you can hold coffee tasting sessions. On the latter, for the great value price of AED75 (Euros20), you can have an hour or more session on how to taste coffee – I did something similar at Escape Caffe in Cape Town, once a month. Hats off to the Sum of Us/Tom Arnel and Sergio.

But we’re not finished yet…

  
The coffee, which I brewed this morning, called the Tsunami or the Sum of Us house espresso blend.

   

I call it splitting the heart. Enough of the pedantic, what did it taste like? Hints of toffee and believe it or not caramelised cashews, yummy. Worth the price and transport from Dubai to Vienna in my baggage.

So, if you’re in Dubai and are reading this, pop down to the Sum of Us, enjoy some breakfast, coffee and atmosphere for me and buy some coffee to be brewed how you like.

Ma’assalama, as they say in the Emirates.

 


The Best Coffee Shop in a Mall: Common Grounds, Dubai

  
Usually, malls are dry places for creativity, where only the big chains can afford the exorbitant rental prices, stifling independent and artisan retailers, so when you see something different in a mall, it catches my eye, and no more so that coffee or/and food shops.

I recall about 7 years ago walking into a mall in Cairo and seeing the famous Venetian coffee shop, Caffe del Doge – sceptical, I went in and was really intrigued by the enthusiasm of the baristi – the coffee was typical Italian, dark roast, but prepared with care and lots of etching (not latte art, but using chocolate syrup to draws patterns). Back then, I thought that was the best coffee shop in a mall. Then about 3 years ago, I went into Westfield Stratford in London and was pleasantly surprised to have coffee at Grind. Attention to detail in preparation, coupled with great espresso machines, topped up with cakes, customer friendly staff in a very busy environment made for a very electable coffee shop environment and for me back then, the best coffee shop in a mall.

But now…. we have a new contender… drum roll…..

With two Victoria Arduino Black Eagle two group machines (i.e. the most expensive espresso machine in the World, designed by Jim Hoffmann – see my last post), 

  
 a coffee menu, offering filter coffee especially brewed for you using a chemed, aeropress or Hario V60, coffee beans on sale, a very welcome spread of cakes, sweet bites, pastries and more, including a food menu with wide appeal, friendly staff, the brainchild of serious coffee fanatics and located in a the city of malls and more, comes…..

Common Grounds in the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.

  
The brainchild of Tom&Serg, Common Grounds is their third outlet in Dubai, after the Sum of Us. The latter location is now their coffee heaven location, where all their coffees are roasted and dispatched to their shops, with espresso blends and filter roasts  on offer.

Located in a mall, Common Grounds had to be different – first off all, it’s in the Mall of the Emirates extension – this remains one of Dubai’s most popular malls and is famous for the one that has the ski slope, amongst other popular attraction and designer shops. The shop is not too far from the movie theater area in the corner. For this location, Tom&Serg had to offer more food and dessert and own 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I visited I had a burger, prior to my flat white of course 

  
and was really spoilt for choice on the desserts (almond and orange cake, mini-cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, brownies, pastries and more), I decided on the almond and orange cake.   

The staff from France and South Africa were really friendly and couldn’t do enough. The barista were available to offer coffee geeks like me a choice of coffee based on brew process – I settled for the chemex.

I could easily have been in a cafe in central London in terms of the attention to detail – with it’s laid back feel and no evidence of being a chain, Common Grounds has a unique and independent cafe appeal. As you know, I like shopping (mostly outside and not in malls, unless it’s for food) and visiting Dubai, but now I’m rest assured that no matter how much shopping I’m doing, not to mention, my wife and daughter are doing, I can always escape if I’m Dubai to a cafe to relax and drink great coffee.

A well deserved title from me “the best coffee in a Mall”, but let me know if there’s somewhere else, I’ve missed in the World of Coffee.


I was @ The Vienna Coffee Festival 2016

  
Things are changing in Vienna, one of the original European Coffee cities from way back. So, in 2016, they had the second ever coffee festival, running from 15-18 January 2016 at the Ottakringer Brauerie, which seemed well organised with a vast array of attendees from babies to 80 somethings, with free coffee on tap, lectures for nerds like me, top coffee machine suppliers and a brand new patented tamper from an Austrian manufacturer. so here’s a summary;

Hauck

  
 Probably the first revolution in tamping since the Espro tamper, way back over 10 years ago. So what’s special about it ? It’s made in Austria, using only Austrian materials, even the wood, but the most important thing is the built-in device that guarantees level tamping and hopefully a more consistent espresso shot.

Victoria Arduino Black Eagle

  
Well, I’ve already ranted on about this, after the last coffee event and during my visit to Kaffeine 2 in London. In short, it’s a very special machine – the most expensive espresso machine in the World, etc. I was happy to learn that Jonas Reindl in Vienna now have one and so does top roaster and coffee connoisseur extraordinare,  Jo Wechlesberger of Vienna School of Coffee. The main distributor, Christian Kaiserseder, was happy to learn that I knew of the machine, made me an espresso and also told me about their new revolutionary grinder, which maintains an extraction temperature using flat burrs. In short, the more you grind in a typical grinder, the warmer the machine becomes affecting the freshly ground coffee and hence taste.

La Marzocco

  
  Still on machines, glad to have met Espresso Solutions owner Reinhold and his team again, who had the Linea Mini-Home on offer for today only at the bargain price of EUR3,600. In any case, things have really changed as it’s been almost 10 years when I first met Reinhold and we lamented about how there were no cafes in Vienna with a La Marzocco machine. I hung out with Charlie Furth (Fuerthkaffee.eu), another Vienna based roaster, whom I’ve know for several years as our kids attended the same kindergarten – our kids are now teenagers. In any case, I waited to taste his latest offering, an Indonesian Coffee from Bali, which had a pineapple acidity and something mysterious.

Jo Wechlesberger aka Vienna School of Coffee

 Upon entry, you are greeted by Jo and her coffee jeep and caravan, which has been pimped up as mini cafe, offering very high quality coffee – probably the best mobile coffee cart in the World if you consider who’s running it – top barista, top coffee roaster, top SCAE judge – need I say more. She’s only one of the exhibitors selling coffee, coffee bags and crepes, but she’s raking it in, as also there were lots of coffee exhibitors using her coffee inside. Fro 2016, Jo plans to get back to basics, brewing coffee with love, yay!!!

Coffee Theatre

  
On the first level, there’s a coffee theatre, where pros share their knowledge with willing ears. I passerby quickly to hear a Brit from Falcon Coffee giving a lecture on coffee tasting and also met Mr Andreas Idl, CEO of Cropster, who develop “Software for coffee roasters, cuppers, traders, and producers to make consistently great coffee”  and work with Workshop Coffee and Square Mile Coffee (two of my fave UK based roasters).

Balthasar Coffee

  
As you know, one of my fave coffee shops in Vienna, were serving high quality championship filter coffee using the chemex, aeropress and Hario V60 methods, as well as selling coffee, which seemed to be flying of the shelf too.

Also on show was the Austrian barista and latte art championships and some other events.

After 3 espressos, 1 filter brewed coffee and a cappuccino I was caffeined up and ready to go, but I was glad to visit what I hope will become a prominent event on the coffee scene in Vienna.

  

   
 

 


Vienna Coffee Diary: At Jonas Reindl – A Piece of NYC & London in Vienna

Cortado

Cortado

The first thing that hits you when you walk into this Vienna Coffee Shop, which sits opposite an iconic Viennese building – the Votivkirche (People’s Church) housed inside the Sigmund Freund Park in the 9th District, is that you could easily be inside a London or New York Third Wave Coffee Shop. From that, I mean the design – its classic Anglophone – with a fridge on the right hand-side stocking trendy looking soft drinks, a basket with goodies and a display of tools for coffee lovers.

As you move further towards the ordering counter, there’s a display – not of Austrian style cakes – but rather of Anglophone style goodies displayed in delectable glass dome cake stands – double layer chocolate cakes, carrot cake, banana bread, brownies, granola pots and sandwiches wrapped in organic looking brown paper – there’s even a counter behind, where sandwiches can be freshly made to order, together with the preparation of couscous bowls for a healthy lunch.

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If you want to “escape” to NYC, they even have Pastrami Nights every Thursdays. Furthermore, if that wasn’t enough, they open until 10pm every night, except Sundays, which possibly makes them the only new age style coffee shop in Vienna that stay open to 10pm and possibly in Europe. So, after a long day at work, shopping, visiting museums or if you want to meet up with friends to have a great cup f coffee, Jonas Reindl is open to satisfy your cravings.

If you visit the website you will get a full description of the amount of work that has gone into selecting their furniture – recycled Indonesian teak wood, 100 year old chairs – very vintage, but in summary, the décor is very cosy with homely brown leather chairs and sofas, natural wooden tables, high chairs with black metallic frames – in the summer, you can sit outside, get a tan or just people watch. In the winter, it’s cosier, with calming lighting and Frank Sinatra-esqe music. So, you can imagine – people come here to hang out, relax and enjoy the atmosphere with a good cup of coffee and cakes.

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Now to the coffee – on machines, they’ve got a Dalla Corte 2 group machine, top class espresso grinders, a brew station for filter coffee (V60, aeropress, chemex and more).  To compliment the tools, there’s a coffee menu, displayed on a blackboard style wall highlighting the espresso and filter blend coffees on offer, accompanied by mouth-watering taste profiles – coffees tend to be a house blend, from Süssmund Kaffee (a local Austrian roaster) and guest espresso and filter blend from top coffee roasters on Europe’s mainland.

BUT gadgets and coffee never maketh a café to be featured on this site, so you’ll be glad to know that well-trained and friendly baristi, who speak English are on hand too. The barisiti are always open to discuss what’s on offer and how it might go with your chosen coffee – on one occasion, I wanted a Cortado, using a 150ml glass and that wasn’t a problem – happy customer – see top of post for pic.


I love coming here, because I can get a nice slice of something sweet, accompanied with at least 2 good cups of coffee – usually a milk based one and to finish off with an espresso or filter brew – sometimes a very short Americano, made to order (gee! I’m fussy). On my first trip, being a little bit doubtful, I went straight for a filter blend to check out the skill of the barista (a half Austrian and half Australian guy), where my coffee was prepared using the kalita wave brew filter – see above for brew action and below for the end product – delicious !

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All in all, a great place to hang out on a Saturday afternoon with friends and family – my daughter keeps asking me when we can go back to have that chocolate cake.


I’ve also noticed that their clientele is not just increasing but is becoming more and more diverse with respect to ethnicity, age and culture.

So, if you want to ”escape”, come here and well done Jonas Reindl and staff.

Jonas Reindl

Währingerstraße 2-4, 1090 Wien

http://www.jonasreindl.at/the-cafe/


The London Coffee Diary 2: Curators Coffee II

 Not too far from Mother’s Milk, and actually the street before, is Margaret Street, where you’ll find Curators Coffee Gallery on 51 Margaret Street, London W1W 8SG. For a history of Curators Coffee, see my post here. In summary, Curators Coffee is the brainchild of Catherine, former head barista at Kaffeine. Curators Coffee Gallery is the second location, right in the heart of London’s shopping universe.

BUT, before I tell you about this spot, let’s look at the word, CURATOR.

It’s linked to curate or curated, which for those who don’t sleep with a Dictionary under their pillow or I guess these days, have the Dictionary app on their mobile phone, means:

Someone who looks after something special like in a museum or a piece of art or who selects something special for a medium, like a website.

So perhaps, we can say that at Curators Coffee, they have paid particular attention to selecting their coffees and an how to present them, whilst looking after you or your taste buds.

The Entrance

The décor

It’s quite easy to walk by this spot, primarily because the decor is quite sombre – there are no bright lights announcing that you’ve arrived at this top coffee spot in the West End, nor is the entrance dominated by a lively crowd and loud music, accompanied by happy customers chatting at the top of their voice. The mood has been dictated, perhaps by the name, a gallery – well, here we have a gallery of coffee – and downstairs the wall is now littered with art. In addition, they’ve gone for low level lighting, a blue black mood and even though the ceiling is white, the shop floor only really lightens up on sunny days, where the Sun can easily peep through the ceiling window. But, don’t be fooled, where the decor can be sombre, but soothing, easy for you to escape, the coffee and attention to detail will awaken your coffee senses.

Equipment and Coffee

First up, for espresso drink lovers,  there’s a burgundy enclaved La Marzocco Strada, with corresponding Mahl Konig coffee grinders.

The Espresso Stuff

The Espresso Stuff

For coffee purists, the filter brew centre is dominated by copper designed Hario kettles, accompanied by a coffee menu sheet, where you can choose your coffee and style of preparation – chemex, hario V60 and aeropress.

The Brew Bar

The Brew Bar

The backdrop is dominated by coffees on offer and brew equipment to purchase. Curators tend to favour Nude Espresso Coffee Roasters (London based) as their in-house espresso blend but this is complimented, at least for the filter brew, with coffee from different English coffee roasters.

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Food and other Drinks

By curated, they have selected, tried and also offer coffee inspired cocktails – a strawberry one during the summer, which regularly sells out – trust me.


 On the food, there are sandwiches and salads, using exotic recipes, where the generous plates, reminiscent of Otto Lenghi cookbooks, are topped with colourful leaves, pomegranates, cranberries, various nuts, pulses and vegetables like sweet potato. Let’s not forget one of my faves, delectable cakes – I’m usually spoilt for choice on the sweet stuff as my tastebuds are lit up with excitement – banana and nut bread, carrot cake, brownies, pastries – ok, I’m getting carried away.

So why go..

Well for a start, the staff are friendly, know what they’re doing as one of the barista is a contestant for the latte art championships;

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Go girl!!!

I love coming here because I’m guaranteed well “curated” coffee and accompanying tasty delights in a relaxing atmosphere, where I can “escape”. I also use it as my primary meeting point to catch up with friends because the mood is so relaxed, especially downstairs, where you can easily spend hours just chatting.
 The staff aren’t going to hassle you to order every five minutes, but they don’t have to – once you pass by the till and see all that colourful food and smell the coffee, you’ll be heading downstairs, waiting for your order to be delivered to you.
So go get curated….

Brew Bar

  


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